Milwaukee Latino Voter Turnout Has Been Relatively Low In Recent Years

Nov 2, 2018

Candidates and interest groups have been doing all they can for months to try to attract voters to the polls on Tuesday. But there’s one group of people they may not be reaching effectively: Milwaukee's Latino voters.

That might be because it's hard to characterize the Latino voting population. Immigration, for instance, isn't at the top of the list for all Latino voters.

Take Abraham Alvarez, who lives on the city's south side. He says it's important for Latinos to become politically engaged. But he says one of his main concerns is the environment — not immigration.

"I'm studying water resources, so I want to protect the water for everyone. I know we have a lead issue in the water in Milwaukee," Alvarez says.

Alvarez isn't alone. Giselle Vera, who's 19, will be voting for the first time Tuesday. She's most concerned about the rising cost of college. Retired attorney Carmen Ortiz says protecting health care coverage — especially of pre-existing conditions — is what drives her to the polls.

Dr. Enrique Figueroa says Latino voters have a wide range of concerns, just like any other population. Figueroa is a former UW-Milwaukee professor and former director of the Roberto Hernandez Center at UWM. He says the top concerns are "education, jobs and community development," followed by health care, and then immigration.

But, Figueroa says, being concerned doesn’t necessarily translate into votes. "The Latino voter in this country and more specifically in Wisconsin has progressively declined in voter participation as a percentage of eligible voters." Figueroa says that's been the trend for at least the past 10 years.

In the U.S., there are nearly 30 million Latinos who are eligible to vote. They make up almost 13 percent of the electorate, according to Voto Latino.

But Figueroa says many don’t vote — including in the state assembly district on Milwaukee's south side that’s represented by Democrat JoCasta Zamarripa.

"JoCasta Zamarripa has the district that has the highest percentage of Latino voters. And yet is by far the lowest of all the districts in the state of Wisconsin," Figueroa says. He adds, there are a number of reasons Latinos don't vote, including "they don't care, they don't think their vote counts."

Figueroa says there also are a number of reasons Latinos might not feel invested in the political process.

"There's really not a lot of change. Latino communities continue to be low in educational attainment, they continue to be low in wealth accumulation. They continue to be a low in a number of socioeconomic indicators."

Yet Figueroa says there are steps political parties could take to do a better job of reaching Latino voters, including having a year-round, dedicated presence in Latino communities. "One of the complaints is that people come in the weeks, months before the election and try to rally folks, organize folks. And then they go away."

Figueroa says he's hopeful Latino voter turnout will be higher Tuesday than in recent years. But he says he's also "realistic," and thinks it's more likely the downward trend in voting will continue.